Outdoor enthusiasts know how important it is to select sturdy, reliable footwear. That’s especially true of hiking boots, which are vital to your comfort and the key to your safety as you navigate tricky terrain. From an aesthetic perspective, it’s easy enough to choose the pair that best matches your beloved barn coat and your favorite all-weather pants.
But functional details are also important. Finding the right fit is essential; the last thing that you want to risk is your balance while you’re climbing a hill or making your way across an unfamiliar path. If it sounds complicated, that’s a good thing — it should be a little bit more challenging to find the right pair of hiking boots. There are many available, after all, and it’s worth a little bit of additional effort to ensure that they fit like a dream. Here’s everything you need to know to find the perfect ones for you.
In the general sense, any pair of quality outdoor boots — not including winter snow boots — may be classified as appropriate for hiking. It’s a slight misnomer, though, because there are many different types of boots that fit under that broad banner. Some are more like shoes with a low profile, while others hit at the ankle or extend above it. The former is more suitable if you want something especially lightweight, but you will need an actual boot if you’re tackling trickier grounds and carrying heavier loads. That’s why it’s so important to recognize your needs when you’re outside.
Are you more of a light trekker who spends some time on the nearby trail with the family? If you don’t break much of a sweat and just want something that’s more shoe-like, you don’t need to go in search of the most robust pair in existence. But if you’re traversing decidedly rockier surfaces or anything snowy, you need a style that’s more mountaineer-appropriate. These are exceptionally heavy-duty, and they’re made to stand up to even challenging terrain with ease. Backpacking boots fall somewhere in between the two. You can use them on many different types of ground, but they aren’t necessarily built for snow. They provide stability, balance, and support thanks to their midweight build and dependable outsole. They are an excellent choice for the everyday hiker.
Just as you closely research the best raincoats designed to handle the wettest days, you should prioritize the material of your hiking boots. Even if the fit is right, wearing a material that doesn’t suit your needs could leave your feet feeling uncomfortably snug. While a secure fit is important, it shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of your comfort.
There are many materials available. Synthetics like polyester and nylon are quite lightweight. This is by far their greatest advantage; they do dry relatively quickly but are not resistant to moisture. If you live in a wet region, be mindful of this. You can upgrade to a split-grain boot that is made with partial synthetic material and partial leather. You’ll enjoy a shoe that’s substantial yet relatively lightweight and breathable — though it likely won’t be very resistant to water. The more resilient option is full-grain leather, which you’ll find on the majority of mountaineering and robust hiking boots. It’s exceptionally strong, so no matter where you go or how much it endures, it will last and last. The only downside is its heavy weight; you’ll grow accustomed to it after a while, but be aware that it’s not a light shoe.
Different cuts offer different degrees of support. It’s as important to consider this as it is to wear a pair of warm winter gloves when you head out on a cold-weather hike. Again, think about what you specifically need when you’re taking to the trails. On a casual excursion that doesn’t require any climbing or unusual terrain, a pair of low-profile hiking shoes should suffice. Avoid them, though, if you know you might have to do more than just walk — you don’t want to risk injuring an ankle.
A mid-cut hiking boot sits right at the ankle, so you have the added benefit of some additional support. In the event that you’re walking on a rocky path or one that’s littered with twigs and debris, you can also expect them to provide a bit of a protective barrier. But you’ll need a high-cut hiking boot if you plan to negotiate more challenging ground. This includes anything off your proposed trail, as you can’t always predict what conditions might be like, as well as snowy or otherwise wet surfaces.
Hiking boots aren’t slippers — you really need to go the extra mile to ensure that they fit your feet perfectly. When you test them out, do so toward the end of the day, when your feet are just slightly swollen after hours of walking or activity. You should also wear the socks that you typically wear when you head out — if you happen to wear orthotics, make sure to include those, too.
The basic idea is to replicate the same variables that exist when you’re hiking. This allows you to get a much clearer idea of how well the boots fit, whether they’ll work well for you, and how good they feel. Walk around the house and perform different movements to see how your feet feel in motion.
With these suggestions in mind, you’re more likely to find the perfect pair of hiking boots to meet your needs. It may involve a little bit of trial and error but at the end of the hike, you’ll be so glad that you put some energy into the process.